Wheeling police officer Rick Richardson saw the referee's stiffened body fall to the football field and immediately knew something was wrong.
Though he was off duty Thursday evening and coaching Wheeling High School's freshman team in a game against Elk Grove High School, his instincts as a five-year police veteran kicked in -- the man was suffering a heart attack.
"I've got to go help this guy," Richardson remembers thinking as he sprinted across the field to the 55-year-old referee from Downers Grove.
Meanwhile, Wheeling High School health teacher Joe Wolinski, a defensive coordinator for the varsity team, rushed an automated external defibrillator to the 40-yard line where the referee was convulsing. Suddenly, the man's pulse stopped and he went still.
Richardson and Wolinski, who both instruct CPR courses, knew what to do.
They shocked the man's heart with the defibrillator, and Richardson started performing CPR while firefighters supplied oxygen. Time seemed to drag on as he focused on steady, forceful chest compressions, Richardson said.
Within a minute, the referee's eyes fluttered open, and he regained consciousness.
"He came back from the dead," Richardson said. "When he woke up, he said, 'Thank you, guys.'"
Richardson had performed CPR during police shifts, but this was the first time while off-duty -- when he least expected it.
The man was taken to Glenbrook Hospital, where he is reportedly doing well but will require surgery, Deputy Chief Todd Wolff said. The referee was not available to comment.
The game Thursday night was canceled after the referee was taken to the hospital, bringing an abrupt end to each team's season finale.
On Friday, Richardson was back at work and he planned to be at the Wheeling High School football field that night -- this time in police uniform providing security for fans.
"I'm just very thankful we were able to revive him," Richardson said. "That's all that really matters to me, that we were able to help him."